ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Baltimore Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman appears to be pitching for his spot in the starting rotation every game he steps on the mound.
And the 23-year-old right-hander did everything Wednesday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Rays to retain his place in the rotation, throwing six scoreless innings in the Orioles' 2-0 victory, their sixth shutout win of the season.
The win Wednesday gave the Orioles (37-34) a series victory in Tampa Bay, and it was their seventh win in eight games against the Rays this season.
After a day off Thursday, the Orioles will begin a three-game series against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on Friday having won six of their first 10 games in a 13-game stretch against American League East teams.
But the story Wednesday was the continuing evolution of Gausman (3-1), who held Tampa Bay to just five hits with five strikeouts Wednesday, into a dependable major league starter.
The Orioles began the season by holding Gausman, one of their most prized pitching prospects, on strict pitch and inning counts, but he threw a career-high 111 pitches Wednesday--the most he has thrown in 39 professional starts.
Gausman needed that rope, especially after overcoming a 35-pitch first inning in which he loaded the bases three batters into the frame.
In three starts since joining the Orioles rotation June 7, Gausman has won all three and has a 0.95 ERA. He has allowed just two earned runs and 14 hits in 19 innings during that span, striking out 14 and walking five.
Steve Pearce, batting second for the second straight game, drove in the Orioles' first run with a two-out RBI double in the fifth inning for an unearned run off Rays right-hander Alex Cobb (2-5).
Designated hitter Nelson Cruz hit his major league-leading 22nd home run of the season, a solo shot in the eighth inning off reliever Kirby Yates that hit a light fixture attached to the C-ring catwalk in the ballpark. It was his first home run in his last 15 games.
Pearce's run-scoring hit came after Nick Markakis reached on a fielding error by Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist, who charged Markakis' high chopper but dropped the ball on the exchange to his throwing hand.
Pearce, who is from nearby Lakeland, is 8-for-18 with six extra-base hits (three homers, three doubles) in six games at Tropicana Field this season.
Gausman allowed the first three Tampa Bay batters he faced on base in the bottom of the first, walking Matt Joyce and allowing a single to Kevin Kiermaier before Evan Longoria reached on a fielding error by shortstop J.J. Hardy.
But Gausman escaped the jam by retiring the next three hitters, including swinging strikeouts of James Loney and Zobrist on 84-mph split-fingered fastballs.
In the third inning, Gausman allowed a two-out double to David DeJesus, who then took third on a wild pitch before Gausman induced a inning-ending popup to second base.
The Rays (28-45) didn't help their own cause. With Gausman at 92 pitches to open the sixth, Longoria led off the inning with a double, but two batters later, he went on contact on Zobrist's lineout to left and was doubled up.
With only six relievers available since the club currently has six starting pitchers, the Orioles bullpen tossed three scoreless innings to preserve the win.
After allowing three runs in his previous two outings, right-hander Tommy Hunter retired all six hitters he faced, giving the Orioles clean seventh and eighth innings.
Left-hander Zach Britton recorded a save for the second straight day, his ninth in 10 opportunities overall this season, with a scoreless ninth inning.
(c)2014 The Baltimore Sun
Visit The Baltimore Sun at www.baltimoresun.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services